4th September 1346: Beginning of the Siege of Calais
Edward IIIs campaign of 1346 had taken him through Normandy, seen victory at the Battle of Crécy, and now taken him to the English Channel. Here, his goal was the capture of Calais. The port would act as a platform from which future campaigns could be launched, act as a trading hub, and give the English dominance of the Channel.
Froissart provides us with an account of how Edward set about the siege:
“Between the town, the river and the bridge of Nieuley he had houses built of heavy planks, thatched with straw and brushwood and set out in properly ordered streets, as though they were to be lived in for a dozen years.” Froissart’s Chronicles.
Edward was ready to starve the town into submission. It would be difficult. Calais could be supplied by sea, his own army would be harassed and struggle to find victuals. Contemporary sources note that raids for foodstuffs were conducted as far away as St. Omer, to supplement seaborne supplies and arms sent from England. The sea was controlled by England and her allies, Calais would soon begin to starve.
“When Sir Jean de Vienne, the military commander of Calais, saw that the English were preparing for a long siege, he gave orders for all the poorer people, who had no stocks of provisions, to leave the town immediately. One Wednesday morning more than seventeen hundred of them… came out and tried to pass through the English army. When asked why they were leaving, they replied that they had nothing to live on. The King [of England] gave them permission to pass safely through and ordered that a hearty meal should be provided for them and that each should be given two pence. This merciful act was highly praised, with good reason.”
The Siege of Calais was a prolonged affair. Edward maintained the stranglehold on Calais, depriving the garrison of supply and gradually depleting its stores. The following summer saw several attempts by King Philip to arrest the successes of the English, all of which failed. Calais surrendered to Edward III in August 1347, remaining in English hands until 1588.